What you should expect from a long bicycle journey
Bicycle touring for a sustained period of time is a…
An unusual, exciting, or dangerous experience. Most of the time these blog posts fade away quickly and it’s hard to know if they’ve been read much, but very occasionally one gains a bit of momentum and gets shared around. A few weeks ago ‘An Open Letter To Self-Proclaimed Adventurers’ caught a little pace and it was surprising to see a few reactions. In hindsight the cloudiness of that post is a bit cringeworthy.
One reaction was “That’s an idiotic piece. Getting kidnapped is not an adventure, going over Niagara is a gamble not an adventure. The only one of the 3 stories that is an adventure is ‘No Picnic on Mount Kenya’.” It was tempting to write back with ‘ur an idiotic piece’ but this is the internet and adding fuel to the fire never works well. Another reaction was “I don’t get it. Does it mean we should all just stay at home because everything’s been done already?”. This was saddening as that conclusion is the opposite of how it was supposed to come across. Oops, sorry!
Adventure, going off the dictionary definition, is: an unusual and exciting or dangerous experience. Seeking those experiences is totally worthwhile, for everyone. Doing the thing you’ve wanted to do for ages helps you grow. Ticking off that trip or that thing which frightens you but calls out to you anyway. Has everything been done? No, that’s impossible because it’s subjective. From getting over your stage-fright and walking onto a standup comedy stage for the first time, to riding a bike a long way. It is infinite, it is for everyone, it is worthy, it is real, and simply embracing adventurous experiences has a positive impact.
The intended meaning was: If you want to go and have an adventure, go and do it. Don’t be put off by titles, or inexperience, or lack of ‘the best gear’. Do the thing that calls out to you. If you’re a receptionist – you can have an epic adventure. If you’re a teacher – you can too. If you work in insurance – you can as well. And you should! I really hope that anyone reading this will at some point pursue their big adventure (whatever that means) that is close to their heart.
Finally, one person said: “so are you saying that people shouldn’t write about their adventures?”. No, who is anyone to say that? Crumbs, this blog does just that! Quite the opposite – if you like sharing stories, that is awesome! And reading about people seeking out new experiences is brilliant. From people who frequently go on trips as a career, cool, but everyone else too. Say a caretaker who just ran a fell-race, a student who launched a satellite, a fisherman who plucked up the courage to take part in a rap battle. (Basically, the original post was an ill-thought-out vent about seeing a small few act like they owned something that can’t be owned.)
Moving on to the cool stuff!
If you were asked to choose, can a single moment rise to the top of many? I asked some peeps who’ve chased experiences that called out to them, one thing. To describe their most adventurous moment. Their responses are fun and insightful and sometimes unexpected – enjoy, then get planning!
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“I’ve had my fair share of pretty ‘adventurous’ (or downright stupid) moments – listening to bears sniff at the flysheet of my tent in California, teetering over precipitous cliffs in Chinese mountains, capsizing a packraft in a remote Iranian gorge… when it comes to doing silly things in exciting places, I’m a pro. But I also know that without a doubt my most adventurous moment of all was very different from those higher adrenalin escapades.
The bravest and more daring thing I’ve ever done was cross the George Washington Bridge out of New York City on my first big trip. Physically there was nothing hard about it, nor logistically – there was even a bike path all the way across. Mentally, however… man, mentally it was a war zone. Every fibre of my being was terrified at the prospect of leaving behind all that I knew; swapping the familiar and the comfortable for a heavy bike, a cheap tent and an endless white line heading west. I would have found it so easy to give up right there, to turn around and make plans to fly home to the UK. Somehow – through stubbornness, stupidity and a small but growing realisation that things don’t always have to be fun to be worthwhile – I pushed on over the bridge, into New Jersey, and into the adventure of a lifetime. Since then, I’ve never looked back.”
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“I suppose people would think that racing mountain bikes down mountains at speeds of 60mph every weekend all around the world for a living was adventure enough but I disagree!
You get so used to whatever you do day to day, no matter how adventurous it may seem, so adventures to me are things that I don’t get to experience, days out on the sea in boats, inflatable kayaks through quaint towns, but my most brilliant adventure that I still love thinking of was taking myself to Europe when I was injured and having a year off, I must’ve been 19, I camped for weeks in my tent with my bike, at lakesides and up mountains, the thunderstorms from the tent were amazing, I rode every day exploring the mountains, collecting wild strawberries and bilberries to go with breakfast, washing in the lakes and waterfalls, stealing vegetables from gardens (!!) and making friends with locals who plied me with homemade alcohol.
It was one of the most exhilarating, free, happy times I’ve ever had. A real adventure because I was away from the normal, away from technology, away from comfort, it was real living, being as close to mother nature as I could be, to me that is what an adventure should be.”
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“I was dragging my bike through a thousand kilometres of sand towards Dongola in northern Sudan. The Nile lay to my right, shimmering, tempting, as I sweated in the midday Saharan heat. I wondered what was on the other side of the longest river in the world. (Nothing, according to Google Maps.) The idea took hold, and when I arrived at the next Nubian village I tracked down the owner of a small boat and convinced him to give me a ride. And so it was about halfway across the world’s longest river, outboard motor sputtering, cool water spray on my sunburnt face, that I realised that not only did I have absolutely no idea where I was going, but that this leap into the unknown was precisely what made me feel so damn alive. This, right now, was my most adventurous moment to date.”
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“To me an adventure means taking a risk. Sometimes you run into trouble, and sometimes it turns out to be the most epic moment of a lifetime. One of my most adventurous moments was whist backpacking with a friend of mine in Indonesia. We awoke early, packed our rucksacks and headed off with no idea of direction. We passed peaceful lagoons, chilled out cafes and tiptoed through local farmlands, attempting to climb coconut trees for refreshment on the way. We walked for hour upon hour until we reached what we believed to be the end of the world! A huge of bank of black sand saw the end of the ever growing palm trees and we both stopped in awe. We laughed and told stories the whole way and yet when we reached this bay of black we had nothing to say, but just sat and soaked in the love of a wonderful adventure.”
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Charley: “I am constantly challenging the title of most adventurous moment but they keep having one thing in common: being somewhere I didn’t know I could get – whether I’m leading a hard (for me!) rock route, or running London to Brighton across fields and country paths. The moments that get your heart rate up, make you worry, and then break through the other side.”
Sophie: “For me adventure is all about trying something new, embracing the unknown and having the faith in myself that I’ll get there but also knowing that failure is part of the journey. It’s about sharing the highs and lows with friends, making new bonds, strengthening existing friendships, feeling like you’ve shared something you’ll never forget. It’s about the rewards and how well deserved they feel! The accomplishment, feeling of confidence, the beer and eating of cake. It’s about living and feeling alive.”
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“I used to think I was adventurous but the furthest I’ve been from civilisation in the form of say a phone or a car or whatever would be a few days camping in Scotland or a couple of days on a mountain in the Indian Himalayas. Not exactly Ernest Shackleton. I guess I may have done adventurous things to those uninitiated with fell running or those whose definition of adventure is markedly different to mine. It’s all a matter of perspective.
If it’s what you’re into, then all my adventures in running have been adventures of the mind. Many hundreds of people have run further or faster. Maybe not so many have done so at night, over hills, in the wind and the sweeping rain. Then again, maybe you have, in which case skip to the next guy!
This is the closest I’ve come to a real adventure. Something where the outcome is far from certain. Running towards the mountains without a headtorch to see what it’s like. The feeling when you float up the steepness and come face to face with the moon. Uncertain starlight giving way to a flood of brilliant radiance and you are able to pick out instantly a boulder here, or there, a puddle left from the evening downpour. All that was invisible moments before, now open for your private viewing.
That doesn’t have much to do with the mind on first glance. I’d argue that it’s experiences like that which remind you why you race on the fells. I need reminding sometimes when I’m racing. Legs melting into screaming lungs. The challenge in a lot of these isn’t to win but often just to finish. That’s the mental side. The not knowing is the adventure. The not letting your body give in when you do know. I think it takes a lot of courage to run up a hill into a gathering blizzard. Courage… and stupidity.
Anyone can have an adventure, though. As I said it’s a matter of perspective. When I’m 94 I’m gonna relish the not knowing if I’ll be able to make it to the toilet without pissing myself. How adventurous is that?!”
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What is an adventurous moment you look back on?
[p.s. Leon’s book is out on the 7th July and involves getting chased through cornfields from a gun-toting alcohol-soaked rancher, and Tom just released a technical ebook that anyone interested in bike touring should check out.]